Introducing InternetWide / ARPA2

This is an introduction to the ideology that underpins the InternetWide foundation and its handywork in the form of ARPA2 projects.

The big idea behind ARPA2 is to create an environment where you are in control. Old-school hosting providers pioneered the idea by letting their users host their own websites, email addresses and such, all under their own domain name. This led to the so-called “LAMP stack”, an acronym of the underlying technologies Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP.

Since the introduction of this scheme, the Internet has seen a tremendous amount of innovation. But, as a result of cut-throat competition on the pricing of the relatively standard LAMP stack, most hosting providers have had a hard time keeping up. In their place, we now see specialised services based on centralised service hosting, much to the disadvantage of the privacy of individual users.

With ARPA2, we hope to regain the level of individual control that we had in the days of the LAMP stack, but without the limitations of just having web and email. This is not so strange in itself — chat and (video) telephony have long been standardised and can be run anywhere, anytime. All you need is an Internet connection — in principle.

Many advanced computer users actually run these services for themselves, and are successful at evading the centralised control from the few large silos that reign todays Internet (and the privacy of its users). Their level of understanding however, is not available to anyone. This is where hosting providers used to step in.

The competition between hosting providers however, makes it difficult for them to keep up with new developments. They might have picked up on some technologies, but there is no integratal adoption of things like chat and telephony — technologies that are pretty vital in the protection of individual freedom. To step in, we are developing

  • An architecture for the Internet, based on loosely connected domains, either hosted privately or with a hosting provider. We coined the name InternetWide Architecture for this, and you will read a lot about it in this handbook.
  • An open source software distribution that supports both the technical-savvy individual or company, and the hosting provider who simply wants to run a modern software stack that integrates with other hosting providers’ domains, among others because they follow the same architecture. We coined the name ARPA2 as the umbrella project name for our individual development projects building towards the InternetWide Architecture.

The purpose is to achieve a lot of functionality, available to all, with choice of service provider and always supportive of do-it-yourself. A lot of excellent software is already available in the open source community; the trick is to identify and build any extensions that these components may need in order to fit into the architecture. In almost all cases, this comes down to adding a plugin to which the applications are already pretty open, but for which nobody has identified the need yet. Our approach from an integral architecture helps us to find precisely the itches that need to be scratched if we are to get all these sublime components to work together as the concerted whole that leads to the perfect end-user experience. This is why we opted for the (admittedly grand) name “InternetWide Architecture” for this design — it simply describes best what we are aiming for.

The architecture is designed by a cryptographer, with serious attention for matters of security and privacy. The entire architecture is complex, because it touches upon many matters, but as we worked on it, a rather clear image has formed, fulfilling most or all of our hopes and dreams of getting to a mature, decentralised Internet, where individuals and companies regain their individuality with the security and privacy that they so much deserve to have.

As the project matures, we should see increasing numbers of users who feel less obliged to “do what everyone does” and accept the gradual tightening grip of silos on individual privacy. We are not here to put those silos out of business or disconnect them from users of the ARPA2 software distributio — we are only here to offer users a choice between a silo or individual responsibility for their online presence.